PORT TOWNSEND — Amid the “Ruckus” — Sunday afternoon’s pre-party before the start of the Race to Alaska — Skipper Jeanne Goussev was far from the commotion.
The Ruckus at Pope Marine Park had food vendors, souvenirs, live music and vessels on display. But over on her boat at Point Hudson, she was thinking about a lantern.
Goussev’s crew are the reigning champions of this 750-mile boat race. Team Sail Like a Girl went from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska, in six days, 13 hours and 17 minutes last year.
Goussev recalled the moment, shortly after midnight, when she saw the light.
“Aimee’s dad was swinging a lantern,” she said: That’s crew member Aimee Fulwell’s father Jon Tallman, standing on the dock in Ketchikan.
This was a welcome sight, to say the least. Sail Like a Girl’s six-woman crew had voyaged through rapidly changing winds, shifting fog and the magnificent Pacific Ocean.
Then there was that log. They hit it at about 2 o’clock one morning north of Bella Bella, B.C. They had to roll their boat, a Melges 32, off of it.
All of this and who knows what else awaits the scores of teams setting out today in this fifth Race to Alaska. Departing Port Townsend and headed for Vancouver Island at 5 a.m., the teams are paddling, pedaling and sailing on their own power and skill.
The first leg, the “proving ground,” is 40 miles to Victoria, B.C. Fifty-three teams are signed up for that, including kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Forty-six crews are in it for the whole package — reaching Ketchikan — which promises $10,000 for first place and a set of steak knives for second.
Next door to Sail Like a Girl at Point Hudson, another crew was readying itself: Team Shut Up and Drive. The eight members, made up of men and women from France, Seattle, Canada and Albuquerque, N.M., had Satchel Douglas up tuning the rig. That means “adjusting the tension on these shrouds,” he said, “to be faster. Everything we do is to be faster,” on this 33-foot Beneteau Figaro 2.
Race to Alaska competitors include teams from the world’s coasts and inland waters: Team Angry Beaver from Port Ludlow, Team Extremely Insain from the Netherlands, Team You Either Do Stuff or You Don’t from Nashville, Tenn., Team Wingnuts from Australia, Team Funky Dory from Walpole, Maine, and Team Quilbillians from Quilcene.
Port Townsenders include Team Laqvelo, Team North2Alaska and Team Ziska: Sail Like a Luddite.
Abundant information awaits at R2AK.com.
The Race to Alaska’s precursor, the Seventy48, was set to finish Sunday evening. A race from Tacoma to Port Townsend on human power only, it started Friday with 109 teams, and by Sunday afternoon only a handful of competitors had not yet reached the finish line. The Seventy48’s teams and results are found at seventy48.com, while the race’s Facebook and Instagram pages also have photos and data.
Around 1 p.m. Sunday, Douglas’ ears pricked up as the song “You Raise Me Up” began to play on Sail Like a Girl’s vessel. It was part of a blessing ceremony led by Grace MacLeod, a spiritual officiant from Bainbridge Island.
“I was looking for an incredibly powerful project to be part of,” MacLeod said; then Sail Like a Girl, preparing for their first Race to Alaska, showed up. She led a blessing ceremony with the women last year.
For this Sunday’s ceremony, MacLeod brought flowers, recorded music, sage and a seashell. Just before it began, Goussev talked a bit more about what it means to Sail Like a Girl.
This is about moving forward “with power and confidence and ambition,” she said. It’s also about being proud to be a woman engaged in something that is hard.
For her crew, whose average age is about 42, 2018’s Race to Alaska had plenty of rough patches on the way to victory. They included the passage through British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait, Goussev said, when “we went from 2 knots of wind to about 40 — in two minutes. We had full sails up. Getting all of that under control was wild.”
At other points, the crew was traveling through inky darkness and soupy fog when they heard the sound of a power boat. How close was it? Would they be able to see it in time?
The women managed to avert disaster, again and again. The Race to Alaska means nature in all her glory — and teamwork to match.
“The ocean is magical,” said Goussev, “and ferocious.”